CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is
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The Right Word

December 1, 2014 (permalink)

From Prof. Oddfellow's sketchbook.  For Jeff Hawkins.

November 12, 2014 (permalink)

What's in a name?  Here's Samuel Merry from History of Trumbull and Mahoning Co.'s, 1882.

November 11, 2014 (permalink)

Here's the Forgotten Alphabet, courtesy of Hilary and Jonathan Caws-Elwitt.

October 16, 2014 (permalink)

We disagree with [The Magnetic Fields'] Stephin Merritt that "do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do ... are nonsense syllables." We also disagree that "There are only two, arguably three, one-letter words" (as we elaborately demonstrate in our dictionary of one-letter words). But live and let live. And his book, illustrated by the illustrious Roz Chast, is called 101 Two-Letter Words.  (Pictured below, Prof. Oddfellow measures magnetic fields in honor of Stephin Merritt.)

October 12, 2014 (permalink)

From our one-letter words department, here's the letter T meaning "tea."  Our illustration appears in Gazetteer and Business Directory of Rutland County, Vt., for 1881-82.

October 8, 2014 (permalink)

"'Defamation' was the last word enacted, the second syllable of which, with some liberty taken in the orthography, is represented in the annexed sketch.  Hay (for 'A')."  From Thirty-eight Years in India: From Juganath to the Himalaya Mountains by William Tayler, 1881.

October 3, 2014 (permalink)

"We board the frail vessel words are, sailing to the world's end to find the one word that would render all words superfluous." —Stein Mehren, Fire & Ice: Nine Poets from Scandinavia and the North

September 29, 2014 (permalink)

Leigh Hunt is apparently the only person ever to have referred to an "exactitude of toe" (easiness and endlessness notwithstanding). From The Essays of Leigh Hunt, illustrated by Henry Matthew Brock, 1903.

"'Rot!' I replied, with less elegance than terseness."  From Dariel by Richard Doddridge Blackmore, 1897.

September 26, 2014 (permalink)

"In all we say we are responsible for the final human's final words." —Stein Mehren, Fire & Ice: Nine Poets from Scandinavia and the North

September 6, 2014 (permalink)

"Weltschmerz."  From Peter Ibbetson by George Du Maurier (1892).

August 19, 2014 (permalink)

An illustration from The Oxford Thackeray.  The caption reads: "Mr. Huxter likes to be called a goose."

July 12, 2014 (permalink)

"Kerblinkity-blunk": an illustration from B. C. 1887: A Ramble in British Columbia by James Arthur Lees (1889).

June 11, 2014 (permalink)

Inspired by the caption of this illustration from The Quiver, 1878, here's an alternative to the phrase, "As I live and breathe!": "As I stand and read!"

April 8, 2014 (permalink)

While this illustration isn't literally a simile, it's (ahem) very like one.  From The Argonauts of California by Charles Waldo Haskins, 1890.

April 6, 2014 (permalink)

Here are two rather excruciating vintage names: Grisette and Orthodocia.

March 21, 2014 (permalink)

"Write mortal; think witch": advice from the classic sitcom Bewitched.

March 14, 2014 (permalink)

The text reads: "I am the empty parenthetical / The unattached reference." —Akmed Khalifa, The Camel's Shadow Has Four Humps: African Myth, Urban Mystery (2012)

March 4, 2014 (permalink)

March 1, 2014 (permalink)

Given our substantial research into esoteric tomes, we're sometimes consulted for strange and unusual magical spells. An award-winning quarterly magazine of art and culture based in New York [name withheld for reasons of discretion] once asked us for a spell to cast over their printing press. Most recently, a winner of two Gertrude Stein Awards in Innovative American Poetry [name withheld in a nod to our lost age of privacy] asked us for no fewer than thirteen different spells:

  1. A spell which finds and locates the source of (malicious) gossip and renders the "first tongue" of this gossip chain either serpent-like (i.e. forks the tongue) or like that of some other loathsome beast.
  2. A spell which will allow a refrigerator to enchant the food in it, so that when you eat the food you see the food's history (such as the worker picking the grapes. This would be quite grisly when it came to lunch meat and we realized it had a "family life.")
  3. A spell which will render water capable of transmitting its memories. When an enemy steps into a tub of "blissful" water, suddenly he or she is overcome with a thousand television stations of water memory, all the way back to the time of the dinosaurs.
  4. A spell that turns pussy willows back into the cats they once were.
  5. A spell which allows you to enter into a painting or use a painting, drawing, etc. as an avenue of escape.
  6. A spell to send snow back upwards into the sky—a reverse snowstorm spell.
  7. A spell whereby you can have birds carry a message to other birds to so on to other birds in order to reach someone far away.
  8. A spell which makes someone the reverse of a money magnet, so money is always figuratively (and literally) flying away from him or her.
  9. A spell to make someone fall in love with his or her own reflection. For example, a teenager cannot concentrate in class but must constantly seek a reflective surface to the point of madness. Good for a stuck up kid in school, beauty queen hex, etc.
  10. A spell whereby planes flying overhead will drop valuable things into your yard or on your roof, like a form of tribute from airplane.
  11. A spell to turn pancake batter into quicksand, so when the person eats the finished product, the pancake inside the person slowly causes the person to implode into himself/herself, vanishing throughout the day in a very geometrically weird way.
  12. A spell on cookies to make them like online cookies; they drop without the eater's consent and glow, leading you to the person you are trailing and to whom you have given the bewitched cookie.
  13. A spell to make tornados play music. Needles appears within and the tornado is turned into an old school record player even as it grinds away at a landscape.

Anyone wondering about the content of these spells will want to keep an eye out for our next publication.  We predict that at least two of these secrets will appear in print.

From Comic History of Greece by Charles Snyder, 1898.

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Original Content Copyright © 2014 by Craig Conley. All rights reserved.